The Dallas Cowboys better focus entirely on their Week 14 opponents, the Houston Texans. That doesn’t mean the fanbase can’t multitask.
The last thing Dallas needs is to be upset with the worst team in the league. it would ruin their slim chance of nabbing division rival Philadelphia for the NFC’s No. 1 seed and frankly indicate they don’t deserve it at all. But like everyone else, it’s fine to allow the mind to wander to other important matters. Our focus as fans and media has no impact on the game, so it’s always a good time to take a look at the team’s financial situation as the offseason approaches. Here are a handful of things I can think of.
Projected ceiling space and significant free agents
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Dallas has 19 players who are set to hit unrestricted free agency this upcoming offseason.
Those of most concern are in less valued positions in the league, which is a good thing for the Cowboys. That’s a good thing because Dallas doesn’t have a lot of projected ceiling space, which ironically confuses all of Cooper and La’el Collins’ passing hemming and hawing.
Dallas has $6.3 million of space left on this year’s cap that they can carry over (depending on how Odell Beckham’s situation develops). Over The Cap predicts Dallas will slightly exceed the projected cap of $225 million for 2023 based on current contracts and projected rookie class.
They needed the space they had saved by dropping Cooper and look, the league’s best offense in the last seven weeks.
Either way, Dallas has some major decisions to make on the following three players:
RB Tony Pollard
Security Donovan Wilson
Tight end Dalton Schultz
Schultz seems like a no-brainer to allow walking. His production is high but that’s more a function of offense than his elite skill and they seem to have TE1 potential in Jake Ferguson and TE2 in Peyton Hendershot. These two might even end up reversing the order the same way Schultz and Blake Jarwin did.
Beyond these three big names, lesser decisions will be needed on the next tier of the remaining 16, including:
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There’s been a ton of ink on Ezekiel Elliott’s contract since he signed the extension in 2019. Elliott saw he was crushed and before it had a negative effect on his productivity, he capitalized on his importance to the team in the wealthiest. (then) RB contract in NFL history.
Elliott, at the time, was the face of the franchise, not the Dallas quarterback who struggled mightily in the first half of the previous season (for good reason, he had no guns) . Now things have changed. Elliott shares the backfield with Tony Pollard, and while most Cowboys Nation understand how well the two complement each other (such as Elliott leading the NFL in 3rd/4th and 1 conversion rate and Pollard leading the league in yards per stroke), there is still a discussion to be had.
Elliott has a huge hit in 2023 ($16.7 million) and Pollard is a free agent.
I’ve already put a lot of effort into identifying what I think is the best way forward.
A restructure for Elliott saves them more money than an exit, and a new contract for Pollard should bring in around $7 million a year. Learn more here.
Not everyone agrees with this plan, of course. Some want to keep only Pollard, others want Dallas to invest in neither. It sounds silly for a team where the running game is integral to the team’s success, but other than that, there’s something else to consider.
Final details of Prescott’s contract
(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
An interesting part of Dak Prescott’s two-year negotiation happened just before his long-term deal was finalized. Prescott was tagged, for a second year, even though the terms of the deal had been locked.
What it did was use the second of three beacons the Cowboys could place on Prescott, a strategic move that influences all future deals between the two sides. The next time Dallas wants to use the tag on Prescott, they’ll have to pay him 144% of his previous year’s salary. This is in effect regardless of which contract expires. If Prescott signs 4 more contracts, at the end of each, the tag should be 144% of the previous year’s salary.
To further extend their influence, Prescott’s agent Todd France was granted a ‘no-tag’ clause written into this current four-year agreement. Dallas can’t even tag him in 2025, not even 144%. And this is where another element of leverage comes in.
Elliott’s importance to the franchise and Prescott
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Besides his value to the club on the field, Elliott is well regarded as a member of the Cowboys family. Jerry Jones loves his star players and Elliott’s value to him goes beyond on-field value. The fact that he stays in the organization is probably important to Jones and after earning $58 million in his first seven years, if he’s willing to play at a cut price, there are likely sentimental reasons. for the Cowboys to choose a still-viable Elliott despite what the world thinks about paying running backs.
But there could also be another factor.
Prescott and Elliott are best friends and have been close since going through the 2016 draft together.
Now you should be able to read between the lines. Could the Cowboys risk getting rid of Prescott’s best friend? When they have absolutely no recourse, should Prescott want to leave the organization for any reason?
Loyalty shows up in different ways and it would be bad planning not to consider what releasing Elliott might do when Prescott has all the leverage and could get the same amount of money anywhere else. .
Elliott is a team player
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Not once was Elliott seen resenting Pollard’s increased playing time. Not once did Elliott appear to be a first mover; he always seemed like the ultimate teammate, sincerely wanting to do whatever it takes for the Cowboys to win and his friends to succeed.
All that to say he’s probably willing to sacrifice his salary to help the team keep some of their other star players. If the offer is reasonable, considering all of these things, I think it’s very likely that Elliott will still wear the Dallas uniform this year and for more after that.
Extension CeeDee Lamb
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Lamb will be well past his career highs provided he plays in the remaining five games. He established himself as one of the top 10 receivers in the league.
There’s some consideration in not paying the wides, to keep drafting them heavily, but there’s no doubt Cowboys ownership gave Lamb bargaining leverage when they insisted he don the jersey. 88. The question is when will the next contract come. He’s eligible after this season, but Dallas can wait two full years after no doubt invoking the fifth-year option this offseason that locks Lamb in through the 2024 season.
The top seven earning WRs bring in at least $24 million a year on average and Lamb’s classmate Justin Jefferson of Minnesota will almost certainly top the $30 million peak currently set by Miami’s Tyreek Hill.
Dallas may want to be ahead of this deal when they can put Lamb at an inflation level set by guys like AJ Brown ($25m) and DK Metcalf ($24m), players who have better stats early in their careers.
Extension Trevon Diggs
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Unlike Lamb, Diggs was a second-round pick, meaning Dallas will only have a year left in control after this season. Diggs continues to improve, although his interception totals are down from 11 in 2021. He regularly avoids now and has stopped many of the top receivers, including Jefferson, Terry McLaurin, Ja’Marr Chase and others .
The tag amount for coins in 2024 will likely be between $19-21 million, just as a frame of reference. 2023 isn’t a huge year for free agent corners, but 2024 is going to be a boon that might look like what 2022 looked like for extended contracts.
Here’s who could all be on the market at the same time:
That doesn’t include possible early expansions for players like Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain.
Dallas should seriously consider finishing Diggs early and giving him six years.
Micah Parsons’ situation
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Parsons isn’t even eligible for an extension until 2023, but if Dallas doesn’t carve out that space now, he’s incompetent.
The question is when to sign a player who clearly outperforms his rookie contract at the second most expensive position in the game? He’s an edge rusher in negotiations, don’t let what the franchise tag rating would say about him as a linebacker fool you.
Brian Burns will get paid, but Nick Bosa should put the market well above TJ Watt’s $28 million a year in short order. So Parsons will rewrite it if he waits after. We are talking about 32 million dollars per year in all likelihood.
Fortunately, the cap will likely see a huge jump in 2024 if it doesn’t in 2023, and there should be more room to manage Parsons’ deal.
Here’s when I think players will receive new offers, and at what level for their positions:
Micah Parsons (#1)
Trevon Diggs (top 3)